As noted earlier, with their base in Gujarat, the Harappan was suitably located to interact with the Malwa region. In fact, in the Morena district, which lies in the northeastern segment of the Malwa region, late Harappan sites were discovered at three places like Sihoniya, Khudai and Bassaiya, on the banks of the Asan, a tributary of the Chambal. The sites were found destroyed but pottery remained like the late Harappan sturdy and thick red ware of fine fabric with such types as dish-on-stand, vase with disc base, etc. As mentioned by one of the scholars, at Manoti some Harappan pottery types in the lower levels associated with a citadel, which had 11 ft thick walls and a square bastion at turning points.
However, this phase in Malwa is still not well defined. The well-defined successive phases are the Kayatha, Ahar and the Malwa cultures, each with their own assortment of pottery and hence identified as different. Otherwise, the succession is continuous. There is a 12 m thick occupational deposit at Kayatha where the modern village is located on the ancient mounds on the bank of the Chhoti Kali Sindh, a tributary of the Kali Sindh, itself a tributary of the Chambal. Over fourty sites of the Kayatha culture have been located in the north-western part of Madhya Pradesh, mostly in the Chambal valley. The fine-tuned date range of this culture is the second half of the third millennium BC. The typical 'Kayatha ware' is fine, sturdy, wheel made and bears linear painted designs in violet on a thick brown slip which is usually applied from the mouth to the shoulder but also occasionally continues down to the base.
Jars with a globular profile, bowls with thickened incurved rim and ridged shoulder, and large storage jars with heavy beaded rim are some major shapes in this pottery. The 'Kayatha ware' is associated with a red-painted buff ware and a red combed ware. The major shape in the thin-walled red-painted buff ware is 'lota', a small vessel with a flaring mouth, round bottom and carinated body. 'Buff' colour is the result of a wash and haematite pieces were used to paint linear designs on this surface. The red 'combed ware' is sturdy, bears wavy and zigzag lines and has only bowls and dishes as shapes. The large storage jars are crude and handmade with incised and are found appliqu‚ designs.
Apart from these designs, there is an extensive microlithic blade industry of locally available fine- grained chalcedony, but there are also 2 copper axes (cast in moulds) and 27 copper bangles in two pots.
There are also weights for digging sticks. Two necklaces made of agate and carnelian beads were found in two pots. Another pot con-tained 40,000 micro-beads of steatite and domesticated cattle and horse figure in the faunal assemblage are also found. The houses were made of mud and reed and had mud-plastered floors. As said by an excavator of the site, the 'Kayatha ware' has an early Harappan affinity and that its steatite micro-beads are identical with Harappan specimens.
The Kayatha axes bear round indentation marks, a feature noticed on the Ganeshwar specimens too and the probability of Ganeshwar being their source is high. Apart from its diagnostic ceramic, white-painted black-and-red ware, the important feature of the Ahar culture level at Kayatha is the large number of terracotta bull figurines and in some cases, the natural form of the bull is eventually reduced to a pair of horns on a pedestalled base.
The third chalcolithic level in Malwa is constituted by the Malwa culture, the type-site of which is Navdatoli (1952-53, 1957-59) on the southern bank of the Narmada south of Indore. The archetypal 'Malwa ware' is a buff or orange-slipped ware with linear, geometric and occasionally stylized naturalistic designs in black or dark brown. Among the shapes the 'lota', concave-sided bowl, channel-spouted bowl and pedestalled goblets can be mentioned. There are both circular and oblong wattle-and-daub houses. The circular houses are also found and the small ones being obviously used as stores for grains and hay. Some houses are also made in rectangular. The microlithic blade industry is plentiful (over 23,000 specimens) and was produced probably in individual households. At Navdatoli, there are copper flat-axes, wire-rings, bangles, fishhooks, nail-parers, chisels, thick pins and a broken mid-ribbed sword. The analysed specimens have revealed both tin and lead alloying, and the axes carry round indentation marks like the Ganeshwar specimens. Saddle querns, rubbers, hammerstones, maceheads or weights for digging sticks form the general run of objects made of stone. There are beads of agate, amazonite, carnelian, chalcedony, faience, glass, jasper, lapis lazuli, steatite, shell and terracotta. Terracotta culture animal figurines and spindle-whorls have been found. Two varieties of wheat, linseed, black-gram, green gram, green peas, khesari or Lathyrus sativus and rice were cultivated. There were domesti-cated cattle, sheep, goat and pig; and deer were hunted.
In some places around Madhya Pradesh, the excavations give ample evidence of the religious beliefs of the then people. The evidence of religion has been found extensively in the Malwa cultural level. From the excavations, a shrine with a female worshipper on the right and a lizard on the left is found. The calibrated date range of the Malwa culture at Navdatoli is roughly c - 2000-c. 1750 BC.
It has been said with the proof of excavations that there was more rice than wheat in chalcolithic Malwa and 'profuse use' of rice husk was also evidenced. Cattle or bull figurines occur in hundreds and may suggest Saivite belief of some kind. This is also supported by some terracotta representations of the phallus. Many of the bull forms and bulls bear nail impressed crescentic decoration. It is also believed that in the second phase of Dang-wada bull-worship declined and in its place appeared conical cult objects in houses and shrines. There were pot-stands with bull and serpent figures and serpent designs on the Malwa pottery. There was fire sacrifice in circular fire-altars and it has further been believed that there was a separate room for performing rituals in many houses.
At Nagda, the chalcolithic level was succeeded, after a short duration, by an iron-using level, which shows continuity from the earlier chalcolithic level. On this basis, the date of the beginning of the iron-bearing level at Nagda should be well within the second millennium BC.